Updated May 19, 2020
When bringing new residents into your animal sanctuary, they should each receive a thorough intake health examination to identify any concerns that need to be addressed or monitored, as well as to give staff a baseline for future health examinations and to gather a thorough description of the individual. An intake examination is conducted in the same way as a routine health examination, but with a few extra considerations. Your goal during an intake examination is to:
- Assess the individual’s overall health and identify any health concerns
- Identify other atypical findings and work to determine if further assessment is necessary or if this finding should be considered “normal” for this individual going forward
- Gather or confirm information about the individual, such as their sex, approximate age, and physical description, as well information regarding their overall behavior and response to specific situations
Depending on the overall health of the new individual, as well as your staff’s capacity (especially if welcoming multiple new residents at once), you may or may not be able to accomplish these goals at the same time during one thorough examination. If it is not possible to fulfill all of these goals at once, it will be important to prioritize assessing the individual’s (or multiple individuals’) overall health. Just be sure to find time to finish gathering all necessary intake information as soon as possible!
Assessing The Individual’s Overall Health
A new resident could be suffering from any number of issues, such as a festering wound under their hair or feathers, or a severe external parasitic infestation that will not be apparent without a thorough examination. Because many species (especially farmed animal species) tend to mask signs of illness or injury, it is important to conduct intake examinations as soon as possible after their arrival in order to catch health concerns and address them right away. We recommend all incoming health examinations be completed within the individual’s first 24 hours of arrival at the sanctuary. In addition to assessing and treating any injuries, illnesses, or other conditions such as overgrown hooves or nails, it’s helpful to photograph visible signs of these conditions whenever possible. Not only can these photos be useful when assessing someone’s progress, but you may also find that you want or need to be able to demonstrate the condition the individual was in when they arrived. This step is imperative if the individual is part of a pending cruelty or neglect case. In these instances, be sure to work closely with representatives from animal control and the district attorney’s office from the region in which the animal(s) came to ensure you document everything properly. Likely, you will need a veterinarian to perform an examination and document their findings.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding an intake, the time they arrive at your sanctuary, the number of individuals, and the current state the individuals are in, you may not be able to conduct an examination as soon as the individuals arrive, or may choose to wait for a short period of time if they are overly stressed from transport. In other instances, the circumstances around their rescue may necessitate immediate assessment. Each situation is different, so be sure to thoughtfully consider what is best given the specifics of the current situation. If you are not going to conduct health examinations immediately upon arrival, you must at least take time to thoroughly observe the new individual(s), looking for signs of illness or injury, determining if they need further assessment at present through a full or partial examination, assessing if they need immediate treatment or veterinary attention, and identifying any additional needs that you did not prepare for in advance. If taking in more than one individual, you should also assess the social dynamics of the group, looking for any signs of confrontational or other problematic behaviors and separating individuals as needed. Individuals identified as showing signs of concern should be more thoroughly assessed by the staff (if they are stable enough to be assessed safely) or should be seen by a veterinarian.
You should also collect fecal samples during this time to test for internal parasites. Work with your veterinarian to determine how many fecal samples should be submitted if you are testing a large group of new individuals. Make sure every individual is thoroughly checked for external parasites and treated if needed. Be sure to record all information about exam findings and any treatments administered during the exam. Depending on your findings, you may need to start ongoing treatments or follow-up health monitors, or you may need to schedule upcoming treatments or procedures.
Identifying And Assessing Other Atypical Findings
When conducting a routine health examination on a long-term resident who you know well, you may come across something that is technically not normal, but having conducted multiple health examinations on this individual, you know this particular finding is actually normal for this individual (or you can at least look back through previous health examination findings to ascertain that this is not a new or changing condition). When assessing a new individual, you lack that history (unless the previous guardian passed along detailed information), so it’s best to record every finding that is out of the ordinary based on the individual’s species, breed, age, or sex. These findings differ from those described above in that they may not be overly concerning, but will either need veterinary assessment or ongoing observation to say for certain that the issue is benign (or at least not currently concerning). For example, a new chicken might have a crooked toe, but no signs of pain or infection. It’s possible this is from an old break that has since healed but didn’t heal in the normal position. This finding may not warrant any immediate action on your part, but is important information to document and record. If you find something out of the ordinary, but aren’t sure if it’s something to be concerned about, work with your veterinarian. In some instances, a photo and brief conversation may be all that is needed, but other times, a quick veterinary examination may be necessary.
Gathering (Or Confirming) Information About The Individual
Even if the new resident truly is healthy, an incoming examination is an important part of the intake process. In addition to checking every inch of the new resident, be sure to take photos and record a thorough physical description of the individual that can be added to the cover sheet of their permanent record. Be detailed! If the description for every leghorn chicken at your sanctuary is “white with large red comb”, that won’t be very helpful in distinguishing between individual leghorn chickens. A better description would be:
“White hen with a large red comb that flops to the right (see photo 1). Comb has 5 spikes with the middle being the longest (see photo 2). Severely debeaked (see photo 3). Right foot pad enlarged, likely from old infection (see photo 4).”
Be sure to get photos of their unique features as well as a few photos of their face from different angles, and a full body shot. Taking your time to gather as much information as possible about the individual is an important step of the intake process, though if someone has urgent medical needs, this portion of the examination may need to wait.
Now is also a good time to confirm any information provided by the rescuer or previous guardian. Don’t be surprised if you find that the “bull calf” you rescued is actually a female, or if the “hen” you agreed to take is actually a rooster (this is why, if a resident’s sex is an important consideration for you when determining if you can take in certain individuals, you should absolutely request photos if possible). If you were told the birthdate or age of the new individual, be sure to either confirm or call into question what you were told if it’s possible to assess their age through certain physical characteristics. It is not uncommon to receive incorrect information, and not necessarily out of any sort of intentional deception. There are a variety of reasons why you may get inaccurate information, so be sure to confirm any information you can. For instance, a quick look at your new goat resident’s teeth may contradict the information you received about them being young. It could be that because they are a pygmy goat, the person who brought them to you assumed a small goat means a young goat.
If you plan to use leg bands, microchips, or collars as identification, these can be fitted or administered as part of their intake examination. If the residents arrived with official identification (such as ear or wing tags, or state issued leg bands), it may be a good idea to keep these on for a short period of time if they are not causing issues. Before removing, be sure to record this number (and maybe take a supplemental photo), and keep this information in their record in case you ever need it (such as needing to prove where a certain individual came from).
Conducting A Basic Behavioral Assessment
In addition to a physical assessment of the individual, it can be very helpful to observe the individual’s overall behavior as well as their response to different elements of the intake process. Just as it is important to be detailed when documenting their physical characteristics, be sure to use appropriate detail here. Simply saying “nervous” isn’t as helpful as something like this:
“Sabine backed away when I attempted to check her hoof and vocalized, sounding distressed, when she was separated from the herd. She paced back and forth a bit but seemed to calm down when her companion, Saul, entered the stall next to her. We gave her a little hay to munch on, and she then allowed us to check her hooves and body, but shied when we tried to look into her ears. A little coaxing with a small bit of grain allowed us to check her ears, which looked infected. Overall, Sabine seemed a little fearful and uncertain but responded well to companionship and food.”
To learn a whole lot more about behavior basics at sanctuaries, check out our Resident Behavior 101 resource!
Continued Observation Is Important!
It’s important to remember that an uneventful health examination does not always mean an individual is healthy or that they will remain healthy. Continue to monitor new residents closely- the stress of a new environment can bring about certain health issues, such as a flare up of an chronic illness, and other conditions may take time before presenting obvious clinical signs. While all residents should be observed closely each day, extra attention should be paid to new residents during their quarantine period to ensure any potential issues are caught and addressed as soon as possible.